1812, Part 16

On November 9, 1812, Napoleon arrived at Smolensk. The vanguard of his army turned up the next day. Constantly harried by Cossacks and partisans, the corps under Eugene Beauharnais trickled into Smolensk two days later. The rearguard under Marshal Ney was even later. The Grand Army had diminished by half. Napoleon began to plot his defensive strategy against the advancing Russians.

Colour Guard, by Wojciech Kossak.

Colour Guard, by Wojciech Kossak.

Night bivouac of the Grand Army, by Vasily Vereshchagin.

Night bivouac of the Grand Army, by Vasily Vereshchagin.

On the road: Retreat, escape! by Vasily Vereshchagin.

On the road: Retreat, escape! by Vasily Vereshchagin.

French retreat from Russia, by Alexander Chagadayev.

French retreat from Russia, by Alexander Chagadayev.

After a 20-day march, the troops finally arrived in Smolensk. The city, where only six weeks ago, our troops were victorious today welcomed us with empty walls. Hope magically redoubled our efforts to get to this place of promised rest. But our illusions soon collapsed! The army found in Smolensk neither food nor clothing, nor even homes to take refuge from the cold. The last remnants of military order and discipline disappeared: each thought only of himself and sought a means to extend their unhappy existence. Gun carriages that were dragged here with so much effort were chopped up. Some of the guns were thrown into the Dnieper to save the horses from overwork, thus saving another part of the artillery. Only one who has shared the harsh military vicissitudes of fate is able to understand the piercing pain of the gunner forced to give up his guns.

While Kutuzov approached Smolensk, his advance announced by the ever increasing noise of artillery, Napoleon began to distribute awards of valour to his dispirited troops for their heroic achievements earlier in the war…

[Translated excerpts from КНИЖКА С КАРТИНКАМИ.]

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